Oxford City Council

PO Box 10, Oxford, OX1 1EN
Tel 01865 249811
Web http://www.oxford.gov.uk/

Recycling and waste

Balloon Releases and Chinese Sky Lanterns

Since June 2008 Oxford City Council has been running the "Oxford - Don't Let Go!" campaign. The campaign aims to stop mass balloon releases taking place within the City of Oxford to protect wildlife.

Oxford City Council no longer wants mass balloon releases to take place on Council land and has devised the following Code of Conduct based on Marine Conservation Society advice:

Oxford Balloon Code of Conduct

1) Mass balloon releases, balloon launches or balloon races are discouraged within the City of Oxford to protect wildlife

2) Balloons given away in large numbers should be:

  • filled with air, not helium, to prevent them travelling long distances if accidentally released
  • made of natural rubber not foil
  • tied with cotton string not plastic ribbon
  • secured safely when outside
  • hand-tied not tied using plastic valves

3) Fund raising alternatives to balloon releases such as balloon popping, guessing the number of balloons, balloon relays or balloon sculptures are encouraged

For more information on the campaign, please download the following leaflet:

PDF icon Don't Let Go Campaign leaflet (kB PDF)

Why has the Council adopted this Code of Conduct?

Anyone who's ever been to a balloon release will have marvelled at the sight of many hundreds of balloons taking off into the sky but what actually happens to these balloons?

Studies suggest that most balloons rise to a high altitude and burst into tiny fragments but 10% don't burst and can be carried long distances by air currents.

Balloons are a serious threat to wildlife - if they make their way out to sea animals such as turtles, whales and dolphins mistake them for food and eat them. The balloon can then block their guts causing them to starve to death. Wildlife surveys have also found birds that have become tangled up in balloon ribbon and unable to fly.

Since 2003, over 18,000 balloons have been released in Oxfordshire alone, enough to potentially harm many hundreds of turtles, birds or dolphins.

Most balloons released are made from biodegradable rubber which can take between 6 weeks and 6 months to break down, depending on conditions.

However, if balloons are blown into the sea, they can survive for 12 months or more greatly increasing the chances that they will cause harm to wildlife.

Foil balloons are an even greater risk as they may never fully degrade - sperm whales have been known to die from swallowing just one foil balloon.

Balloons are often tied with plastic valves and plastic ribbon and these plastics may take centuries to break down in seawater.

The National Farmers Union has said that when the balloons land in grass fields they may be eaten by grazing livestock or contaminate hay.

Report a Balloon Release

To report a planned balloon release in Oxford please contact us.

Balloon Facts

  • Balloons released in Oxfordshire have been found as far away as Germany and Italy - around 1000 miles away
  • Balloon launches or 'balloon races' are becoming an ever more popular way for charities,schools and businesses to raise money or mark events
  • The Marine Conservation Society's "Beachwatch" found 1,983 balloons or balloon pieces on beaches in the UK - over 3 times the number found in 1996

Useful Links

For further details on the effects of balloons on wildlife, or for details about alternatives to balloon releases, please visit the RSPCA website.

Chinese Sky Lanterns

There is demand by some parts of the Fire Service and The National Farmers Union (NFU) for a complete ban on the sale and use of sky lanterns. This is already the case in some other EU countries. The main arguments for the ban are the fire risk to property and crops, and the risk to the welfare of livestock.

Visit the Oxfordshire County Council website (PDF) to download some helpful guidance on the safe use of Chinese Lanterns.

Page last reviewed 26 January 2012

Environmental Development

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